Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Dance Macabre on December 31, 2008

December 31st, 2008 at about 9:00 pm. The New York Philharmonic Orchestra is performing their New Years concert which is being carried live by PBS.

The piece the orchestra just finished was “Dance Macabre” by Saint-Saens. With just a little bit of effort, the listener can hear the percussion section mimic the sound of the crash and clash of bone on bone and envision the unrestrained whirling of the dancing skeletons – unrestrained until, exhausted, they collapse in a heap.

Elsewhere in the city, the UN Security Council is meeting to consider a resolution calling on Israel to cease its five-day bombing offensive against the 1.5 million mostly Palestinians who inhabit Gaza.

Israel, supported by the United States, insists that it is targeting only the militant Hamas terror organization that is responsible for ending the six month ceasefire declared in June 2008. For some two months, Hamas has been firing increasing numbers of mortar rounds and short-range rockets from Gaza into southern Israel – landing at increasingly greater ranges.

So far, the Israeli aerial assault has seemed to have had little impact on Hamas other than to kill some 400 people in Gaza – mostly terrorists or other Hamas “security forces” if one believes the Israelis. Without question many of the dead are non-combatants; even the Israelis have to concede that point as they decry the mixing of military and security facilities of Hamas with the abodes and businesses of “ordinary” Palestinians.

The U.S. will undoubtedly veto the resolution if it comes to a vote because it will call on Israel to stop bombing without insisting that Hamas first stop firing rockets into Israel. The Israeli cabinet has already spurned a call by France for a 48-hour ceasefire to allow medical supplies and humanitarian aid to enter Gaza. Israeli tank units are in position for a ground assault similar to the sweeps they conducted before they pulled out in 2004.

If this turns into a ground offensive, there will be many more skeletons – but they won’t have music and will not be dancing.

On that note, I end 2008.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Happy Hollidays and Holy Days

I am on holiday starting today and running to January 5th. Durinjg this interval, there will be no entry on the usual schedule (Monday-Wednesday-Friday), but I will post items "as the spirit moves me."

So thanks for reading this in 2008 and for your comments and views. And of course best wishes for joy and love during the cominng holy days and holidays..

The Quakers' Colonel

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

George Bush: "On the Road Again"

It has been work trying to stay up with President Bush as he makes the rounds on what one wag called “a victory lap without a victory.”

Since the election of Barack Obama to succeed Bush as president, the news cycles have been dominated by two stories. The first, understandably, is Obama’s announcements of his selections of those who will occupy top policy-making posts in his administration once the nominees have been vetted by the U.S. Senate as provided by the Constitution and statutes. The second thread, which seems to absorb more and more time, is the economy – both the U.S. and the broader world economy.

But every now and then a report will cite a Bush visit to some location. If something unusual occurs, such as the “shoe incident” in Baghdad, the visit’s visibility naturally is higher. Once the Baghdad visit became known, the visit to Afghanistan was predictable. But Bush recently (November 25) visited Fort Campbell, Kentucky, home of the 101st Airborne (Airmobile) Division to thank the troops for their service and their sacrifice.

Less understandable are two December visits by the President: to the United States Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. His objective in each case was to re-iterate his record on the “global war on terror” – a record which he clearly sees as successful even if the majority of the U.S. public does not.

Of particular note in Bush’s remarks at both locations was his self-identification with the cadets and the older students at the War College (usually lieutenant-colonels and colonels). “We have been called to serve,” he said to the War College audience, trying to use their war experiences to justify his personal mission from the deity to rid the world of the tyranny of Saddam Hussein.

It is a vision, a mission, that Bush believes extends beyond Iraq and Afghanistan, for he also made the point that it is the official policy of the United States to oppose all dictators and to aid democratic reformers and dissidents anywhere in the world.

Bush also is setting a bar that the new administration (he hopes) will have to clear in terms of Homeland Security. He noted that his administration is leaving a structure that can carry on the fight against terror with hardly a ripple on January 20, 2009. He noted that the intelligence community had been re-organized (many critics say the “reform” simply added another layer of bureaucrats). Congress established a new executive department, the Department of Homeland Security (which critics contend is too unwieldy to function). Local police and state and city governments have early warning technology capable of detecting chemical and biological agents and visual monitoring of tunnels and bridges.

Bush also claimed that his administration‘s anti-terror coalition stood at 90 countries. Among its members he specifically noted four: Saudi Arabia once a supporter and financier of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the home country of 15 of the 19 hijackers; Pakistan, which also established formal diplomatic links with the Taliban; and Iraq and Afghanistan, the two regional states that arguably had the most to win – or perhaps the most to throw off.

Bush mentioned two other programs his administration started. The first is the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) directed primarily against North Korea’s transfer of long-range missiles, missile spare parts, and even nuclear weapons-related technology. The second is the Global Millennium Challenge Account under which the administration rewarded developing countries that were “active” in the “war on terror” and promoted good governance and the rule of law.

Of all that happened, of all that he did in response to what happened, Bush seems to believe that the absence of any direct attack on the United States after September 11, 2001, was the result of the development and implementation of homeland security measures that thwarted or at least discouraged numerous terrorist plots. Maybe so. But I still think geography – albeit breachable – is a more probable explanation.

Meanwhile, Bush travels – seemingly oblivious to the fact that Air Force One is adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Role of Women for Peace -- A Commentary

I don’t normally read “The Huffington Post,” but over the weekend two emails from quite separate sources (that is to say, one source did not get the posting from the other and pass it on to a similar list of acquaintances) highly recommended it.

The immediate subject was President-elect Barack Obama’s choices – both women – for Secretary of State (Hillary Rodham Clinton) and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (Sudan Rice) and whether these appointments signal a more gender inclusive U.S. foreign policy – that is to say one that emphasizes “women’s issues” – over the next four years.

At this point the Huffington piece veers off to the role of women in Afghanistan, one of the poorest, most traditional patriarchal countries in the world. Since many Americans, including – apparently – President-elect Obama, consider this conflict “justified,” it is worth reminding ourselves what the real motive was for invading Afghanistan.

Following the September 11th, 2001 attacks on the United States, the Bush administration demanded that the ruling Taliban faction in Afghanistan surrender Osama bin Laden to the U.S. or to a third “neutral” country for trial. When the Taliban refused, President Bush invaded Afghanistan to effect regime change – justifying the war as bringing democracy to that country and liberating women from a harsh subservience to men. Under the western-backed regime, women were allowed to work outside the home, to be educated, to enter politics, and in general have the same rights and privileges as men.

Installing a new government that recognizes gender equality and legislates such guarantees is a necessary but insufficient step to actually achieving equality, especially in a society where ethnic and tribal identity is more important than national identity. Moreover, it is a status that cannot be imposed by outsiders. It can only be accomplished by women who must organize themselves politically and economically to both press for removing restrictions that still inhibit equality of treatment and ensure new laws do not “claw back” the rights they have already won.

In this regard\, it is significant that 68 members of the Afghanistan parliament – 14 percent – are women. By comparison, 17 percent of the members of the just-ended 110th U.S. Congress – sixteen in the Senate and 75 in the House – were women. The 110th is also noted for being the first to have a woman as Speaker.

What the Huffington Post doesn’t address (or what I cannot find in it) is why “women’s issues” would become more prominent in international relations of a Barack administration featuring women as Secretary of State and U.S ambassador to the UN. We don’t wonder about “men’s issues” when these positions go to men.

I suggest that similar cultural and social attitudes on “protecting women” are subconsciously at work in tribal or clan-based societies while they are present as legal (and therefore intentional) choices of the body politic in émigré countries like the United States. But in the latter instances, such concerns are part of the larger issue of human security. The choices, however, still breakdown between a “male” response (war) and a female response (diplomacy).

The Huffington piece notes that until women occupy 30 percent of policy-making positions in government, their ability to consistently influence \social and legal policies will be problematical. Any successes will have to be nurtured and protected until they become so integral to the society as to not be noticed at all. And in a tribal-based society, that is asking a great deal.

Even as far removed as is the U.S. from the tribal/clan social order, the press and the public dote on differences rather than commonalities of experience. For example, in the just-ended U.S. presidential sweepstakes, the press constantly reminded the voters that (1) Obama is the first African-American to win the nomination for president from a major political party; (2) Clinton was the first woman to seek the nomination of a major party for the presidency; and less frequently that (3) had McCain won the presidential race, at his swearing-in he would have been the oldest first-term president. What these facts had to do with the substantive issues – especially the economic distress evident in November and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – is still unclear.

While yet to attain the presidency, many women in the United States have risen to policy-making positions in government. Those who have held presidential cabinet-level positions tend to be appointed to departments dealing with domestic issues. Six women – including the first appointed as Secretary of a cabinet department, Frances Perkins – have been Secretaries of Labor, the most in any department. Overall, 33 women have been appointed to cabinet or cabinet-level positions. According to the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University, at one point in President Clinton’s second term, 47% of cabinet level positions (nine of nineteen) were held by women.

The four departments that have never been headed by women are in the “national security” arena: Treasury, Defense, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs. Only one woman, Janet Reno, has served as Attorney General, a cabinet position whose role in national security has mushroomed since the start of the “global war on terror.”

It would seem that, when it comes to “national security,” the only department or cabinet-equivalent positions open to women are diplomatic. Ronald Reagan appointed Jean Kirkpatrick as the first woman to represent the United States as ambassador to the UN (1981-1985). After three men occupied the post, Bill Clinton chose Madeleine Albright as the top U.S. official at the UN (1993-1997). In Clinton’s second term, Albright became the first woman to be Secretary of State and the first woman to hold both posts. The current Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, came to the post not through the UN but from the position of National Security Advisor to the president. (Three women have served as Trade Representative when that position has been designated as cabinet-level by the president.)

The men have succeeded in grossly mismanaging relations between the U.S. and Iraq, Afghanistan, the global war on terror, and still possibly in Iran. Perhaps it’s time to see whether more women at the top of the seven key national security cabinet departments or cabinet-level agencies (State, Treasury, Defense, Homeland Security, Veterans, Attorney General, U.S. ambassador to the UN) c find the key that opens the door to less war and more peace. .

Friday, December 12, 2008

Obama: A not-too-radical start

The signs are accumulating, beyond the individuals named to head the cabinet departments, agencies, and the Executive Office of the President, that the Obama administration is not going to be as radical as many supporters thought would be the case.

Central to this conclusion are the statements by key leaders in the House of Representatives advocating continued increases in the funds allocated to the Department of Defense. The regular Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 Defense Appropriations legislation includes $65.9 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This week, Representative John Murtha (PA), chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, told reporters that he expected the Bush White House would submit a FY2009 supplemental defense request for $82 billion, But Murtha indicated that he would be open to adding more money to the administration’s request. That would make the $147.9 billion a floor rather than a ceiling. Informed observers also told the Congressional Quarterly that the Joint Chiefs of Staff will submit a place-holder budget (due in early February) of approximately $584 billion.

All the condemnation of supplementals by the Democrats in the 110th Congress may be having some effect, for the FY2009 appropriation ($147.9 billion) to fight the “global war on terror” stands at $40 billion less than in FY2008. (This, of course, is before Congress gets the opportunity to work its will on the measure.) Conversely, the draft FY2010 Defense Appropriations place-holder from the Pentagon is $57 billion higher than the last previous administration budget estimate. This already is an increase overall of $17 billion, but the supplemental is almost sure to be more than $82 billion.

This means that in considering the defense appropriations measures that will come before Congress in calendar 2009, there will again have to be a double-barreled effort. To keep a lid on the supplemental and not include “bridge funding” for warfighting in the regular appropriations for 2010.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Afghanistan May Become Obama's war

It seems as though every newspaper and magazine that comes out or is posted on the Internet features depressing news.

Grabbing most attention the last few days has been the plight of the economy, particularly the “big three” U.S.- based automobile manufacturers who asked the federal government for loans and loan guarantees of $36 billion – of which they probably will get $14 billion if they even get that.

Another very prominent news “thread” centers on the transition of political power in Washington as the Bush administration winds down and the Obama electoral machine morphs from running for office to running the country starting January 20, 2009. And this week saw an unanticipated tangential news “thread” concerning the governor of Illinois who is alleged to have put the appointment of a successor to Obama in the U.S. Senate up for auction to the highest bidder.

On the international front, U.S. publications have had “in depth” coverage of the deadly raid (nearly 175 killed) on India’s financial center of Mumbai by Kashmiri militants who used Pakistan as their base for the operation. The U.S. has leaned on the Pakistan government to cooperate fully in any investigation by outsiders and not use their own investigation to muddy the waters.

As important as these stories are (and I do believe the “tangential” corruption case is important because it involves the public’s trust in those chosen to govern), together they have pushed the seven-year-long war in Afghanistan off the front pages or into the second, third, or even fourth position on television news programs.

Only when a report or an analysis carries a title such as “Afghanistan violence up 40 percent” (June 2008) or “U.S. helicopter shot down as Afghan violence rises” (July 2008) or “Afghan violence seen to be worsening” (November 2008) does Afghanistan register on the public consciousness. Yet unless and until more attention is given to resolving Afghanistan’s geo-political divisions, which everyone agrees cannot be done by military action alone, the public in four years may find large numbers of U.S. troops still in that country.

Listening to the words of the incoming “national security team” leaves the impression that Obama is content to have George W. Bush take the rap for a disastrous war adventure in Iraq (or as Bush himself once characterized it, a “catastrophic success”). But Obama must know that Afghanistan, like it or not, is going to become his war. And he may find that resolving it – even if the U.S. economy he inherits had been A-1 when he took the oath as president – will require radical approaches to both the military struggle and for the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.

I am reminded, in the context of the estimate that the Afghan Taliban now have a permanent presence in two-thirds of the country, of Bernard Fall’s 1964 lecture at the U.S. Naval War College in which he described the signs of where the Viet Minh insurgency against the French in Vietnam’s Red River Valley was in control of the population. As I noted in a 2004 essay on Iraq that referred to Fall’s earlier findings:

"[R]evolutionary war differed from all other forms of guerrilla (or small) wars in that its goal was to advance “an ideology or a political system.” Fall’s research about conditions in Vietnam convinced him that the Viet Cong (VC) and North Vietnamese (NV) approached the war as a struggle for control of the local and regional administrative structures of governance whereas U.S. civilian and military leaders saw armed conflict as the primary challenge. This mismatch in perceptions – an example of conceptual asymmetry – was reflected in events on the ground. The VC-NV concentrated on securing political levers while the U.S. emphasized a military “solution.” The U.S. failure to apprehend fully and consistently the secondary purpose of armed engagements in the VC-NV agenda resulted in a practical asymmetry in which superior U.S. firepower could win every battle yet lose the war.

"Fall himself attests to the extent of this conceptual misjudgment of the depth and extent of political action and intimidation by the VC-NV. Based on some truly intuitive insights that guided his investigations before the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in May 1954, Fall developed three criteria of effective administrative control (as differentiated from what is often intermittent military control) which convinced him that the French position in the North’s populous Red River Valley was about to collapse. The criteria identified the loyalties of de facto village chiefs in a region (which could be gleaned from reviewing the many obituaries of incumbents who lacked protection and plotting locales to determine patterns); where the government says it has teachers (in Vietnam teachers were centrally appointed); and which communities were paying taxes into central coffers.

"New research in 1958 and 1959 convinced Fall that the VC-NV had effectively isolated Saigon from the rest of South Vietnam by a “wall of dead village chiefs” – as many as eleven each day by 1961. But as Fall relates, not until 1963 did the U.S. Agency for International development (USAID) realize that Fall’s focus on tax receipts would apply to South Vietnam. What USAID discovered was that only three of 45 areas were free of VC-NV tax collections."

So the question for today is: “Who is collecting taxes for Afghan President Hamid Karzil?”
Regardless of the answer given today, I suggest that should the same question have to be posed in 2012, Afghanistan will have become Obama's war.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Irregular Warfare

Last Monday, December 1, Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England made it official: irregular warfare is on equal footing with “traditional” warfare – almost.

About a year ago – after six years in Afghanistan and still fighting a virulent insurgency (from the perspective of the United States) – the Pentagon decided to increase the amount of time devoted to developing and analyzing war plans and determining budgetary requirements to support training and, when necessary, irregular operations or counter-operations.

At that time, however, Secretary England decided to appoint as the main proponent for IW not Joint Forces Command but U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). Apparently, the thought at the time was that USSOCOM was the Pentagon’s operational arm for irregular warfare and, as such, they ought to be the ones to pull together theory, doctrine, training, and equipment based on the “lessons learned” from field encounters.

The change to JFCOM as the lead agent for IW reflects two realities not fully appreciated last year. USSOCOM had always been a supporting command – that is to say, if a geographical command such as Southern Command or Pacific Command had a mission that fell within USSOCOM’s responsibilities, a request for support for the geographical command would be generated and, once approved, would go to USSOCOM to be executed. Clearly, the command’s focus lay in the short to mid-term

When USSOCOM was assigned the lead role for IW development and doctrine they were already engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan in hot wars and in Africa in trying to prevent them. The addition of another major covert operation – this time in Iran – may well have stretched special operations resources to the edge.

Joint Forces Command has the requirement, inter alia, to develop and write doctrine for “traditional” multi-service and combined operations. Its focus is long term and cuts cross all the forms of warfare. But it is also concerned with integrating the other elements of power – economic, social, governance, environmental – that are more conducive to stability and reconstitution than military power.

Some will object that the Pentagon is pushing IW forward as another arena where the U.S. military will insist on devoting big money for forces and weapons. Like it or not, IW as irregular warfare – like that other kind of IW, Information Warfare – is not going to disappear any time soon.

What JFCOM might accomplish, with its longer view and its fiscal resources, is the integration of non-military assets and individuals with “force protection” units to respond – if asked by a post-conflict regime – for calls for assistance in reconstituting the rule of law and good governance.

It’s worth a try.

Friday, December 05, 2008

And then there were none -- Almost

The Seattle Times and a number of other newspapers carried articles in their December 5th editions highlighting the departure from Iraq of the 55-man contingent of marines sent by the Pacific island country of Tonga (not to be confused with the African country of Togo).

The choice to highlight the end of Tonga’s participation seems to have been made more on the basis of the colorful departure ceremony performed by the marines than for any other reason. Earlier contingents from the islands had been with U.S. Marines in Al Anbar province when some of the heaviest fighting during the occupation took place in Fallujah and Ramadi. Nonetheless, they are one of sixteen countries that sent troops over the course of the occupation that suffered no fatalities. (Twenty one countries other than the UK, which lost 177 soldiers and the U.S., which suffered 4,209 fatalities lost 138 troops.)

All told, as documented by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), 48 other countries signed on to the post-invasion “coalition of the willing.” Of these, 38 sent troop contingents to Iraq as well as diplomatic cover for the U.S. and financial support. By December 2003, five countries had dropped out, and between January 2004 and May 2007, the number of non-U.S. troops fell from 24,000 to 12,600 and the number of contributing countries contracted to 25.

With Tonga’s departure, 18 countries remain. Twelve must remove all their troops by December 31st. Aside from the U.S., five other countries – Australia, El Salvador, Estonia, Romania, and the UK – will have troops in Iraq after the UN mandate that authorizes the presence of foreign military forces expires at the end of 2008. The Iraqi’s have skirted the issue of having approximately 5,500 troops from these five countries stay on without a formal agreement similar to the one with the U.S. by considering them as “trainers” for the Iraqi security forces. These non-U.S. foreign forces will not conduct operations, as U.S, troops will still be able to do under the security agreement worked out by Baghdad and Washington.

Nonetheless, big changes are coming for U.S. forces in Iraq. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Judgments and an Apology

The judging part of the title has its genesis in a Washington Post article dated November 30 in which a spokesperson for Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted that the Chairman “felt very good, very positive” after his 45 minute meeting with president-elect Barack Obama. Elaborating, the spokesperson noted Mullen’s belief that the next commander-in-chief is a “non-ideological pragmatist” who has great respect for the military-- implying that these are rare figures in the current administration.

I would have been more sanguine had the reporter noted what Obama’s evaluation of Mullen is. Obviously, the president-elect “respects” Mullen – otherwise, by now the Pentagon would be abuzz with gossip about the new chairman. And Obama expects Mullen and the other chiefs , over-watched by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates who will stay on (I estimate) until this milestone is reached, to get the combat troops out of Iraq in 16 months as he pledged to do many times during the campaign and thereafter.

In all, the “national security team – which I am glad to note included not only the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, National Security Advisor, Secretary of Homeland Security, and Attorney General – are centrists, maybe even a bit right-wing. We still hear “dominance,” although less so. We still hear “force” and “power,” but now in the phraseology of soft power along with military force.

The next appointments in “national security” that might give more definition to the new administration’s stand on many security issues will be the intelligence community positions.

The Apology

In my last Blog entry I mentioned that the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) would be closed from the end of the business day on Wednesday, November 26 until Monday, December 1, to allow the staff to observe the Thanksgiving holiday.

What I did not mention in that Blog was my particular schedule for December. I had intended to write December 1 and provide that information, but in trying to finish the first rough draft of this year’s snapshot look at “The World at War January 1, 2009” the minute hand slipped by 2400 (12:00 pm) and into Tuesday. That day was taken up with packing and getting papers etc. set so that when I came back I would be able to quickly get back into the flow.

And where was I going? Into the National Naval Medical Center for surgery. I anticipated “The Quakers’ Colonel” would be offline until December 15. But mid-day Tuesday the hospital called to inform me that the surgery had been can celled and that I should come in tomorrow (December 4) for further consultation with the surgeon.

So that’s the story to now. My apologies to all who looked in vain for a December1 entry. More to come on Friday.